An interview with Rich Amaro Jr., current president of the Western Suppliers Association and president of General Plumbing Supply, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Supply House Times: How do you perceive WSA today?

Amaro: The Western Suppliers Association is an organization that caters to the regional needs of its members, but keeps an eye on the national trends. California has some unique problems and WSA has solutions. I'm talking about issues regarding transportation, lead and gallon-per-flush conservation. We are often the first in the country to initiate legislation on these issues that impact our industry. As a regional group, we get together to discuss potential solutions for problems we face. In addition, WSA offers some educational programs. For example, speakers from the American Supply Association will present their programs locally.

How would you sell a wholesaler on the benefits of joining WSA?

Amaro: It's easy for people in our industry to get so busy that they lose sight of the big picture. WSA gives us the opportunity to meet socially, network for a common cause and share solutions.

What is your primary focus as the current president of WSA?

Amaro: My primary focus is to work with the executive director and staff of WSA to maintain the value of the services this association provides to current members and enhance them. My term began in January and continues through 2003. The next regional meeting will be a joint convention, combining PSDA and WSA. I will be involved in helping to achieve a smooth transition.

How are relations between the regionals and ASA today?

Amaro: A lot of issues arose from ASA's White Paper. Members felt apprehension about change, even though everyone knows it is necessary and a positive move. Our relationship with ASA is improving every day. WSA is committed to continuing that improvement.

Any other comments you'd like to make about WSA?

Amaro: WSA is celebrating its 50th year at this year's convention in Maui. Huge support from vendors has enabled us to achieve our sponsorship goals. The tragic events of Sept. 11 made everyone reconsider celebrations of this type, but we feel our 50th anniversary is important. We can't let the forces of evil keep us from our goals. This will be the last separate convention of WSA.

How has your business and the PHCP industry changed in recent years?

Amaro: In recent years we have seen the blurring of the brands, with availability of products through all channels - Internet, wholesale, retail. It's kind of difficult to achieve the differentiation that distributors used to have. Some manufacturers had select distribution policies in a wholesaler's area but that is no longer as prevalent. All-channel distribution by brands has been the biggest change in the last few years.

How did you start in the PHCP wholesaling business?

Amaro: General Plumbing Supply Co. was founded by my father, Rich Amaro Sr., in 1966 in Walnut Creek, Calif. It is a family business, so it was natural for me to pitch in to help while I was growing up. I also have a couple of brothers who are involved in the business. My mother worked on the books. I worked for the company during summer vacations from school. After finishing school I tried working in some other industries, but I really enjoyed the plumbing wholesale business.

Describe General Plumbing Supply Co. today.

Amaro: We have grown to nine branches serving northern California. We have about 110 employees. Our markets are plumbing and electrical. We would like to expand to a few more branches in northern California.

What is your company's market niche?

Amaro: Our customers are primarily mid-size plumbing contractors and some electrical contractors. We have an upscale showroom. Our selling strategy is to offer convenient locations and a strong inventory.

What competition does your company face?

Amaro: Like everyone else in the mid-size independent business, we face competition from multi-national companies with strong price points and buying power, and big-box retailers that have their eye on the contractor.

How do you stay competitive?

Amaro: Having been in business 40 years now, we feel we have some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry on our staff. Contractors see value in that. Also, we just acquired a real-time technology system from Eclipse. We went online with that late last year and now we are starting to see some of the benefits of updated technology. Because of our multiple branches, we felt the need to become more efficient and smooth out inventory between locations. We are pleased with the progress we have been making with the system.